An Ecosystem for Innovation in Higher Education

There is something happening which is long overdue yet incredibly exciting. Academia is tackling reality. Disruption in higher education is getting sexy, and it's going to change the world.

Social entrepreneurship, the often practitioner-focused undertaking of merging meaning and money, has caught the eye of countless universities around the world. Over 50 have opened centers for social entrepreneurship, including, most recently, Middlebury College. Others have already established themselves at the forefront of the space: Arizona State University, Tulane, University of the Pacific and the New School name a few.

What is the force moving this mountain? After all, universities are decentralized, lumbering bureaucracies that don't exactly embrace monolithic approaches to anything, especially if it is primarily focused on practical application.

A team from Ashoka U, a division of Ashoka, the institution that popularized the term "Social Entrepreneurship" through their Fellowships, has managed to make disruption in higher education more than an idea. Today it is a reality.

Ashoka U, led by Marina Kim and Erin Krampetz, proposes a challenge: How might we build a movement of universities and advance social entrepreneurship thinking to become part of the DNA of the modern university?

The answer: a focused approach. Engage your audience from the top and bring them together to build the momentum. Engagement at the top was on remarkable display in Tempe, Ariz. a week ago, when the presidents of three major universities proclaimed -- emphatically -- that social entrepreneurship was core to their mission.

Those university presidents from Tulane, ASU and Babson, were speaking to an audience of 450 people who had gathered for the Ashoka U Exchange, a conference on disruption in higher education. One hundred universities had sent representatives to attend the conference.

At the conclusion of the Exchange, Ashoka U presented the Cordes Innovation Awards for best practices in social enterprise education. The constant push for higher impact and better institutions describes the remarkable energy that consumes the attendee. That night ThinkImpact's Innovation Institute was fortunate to be among the recognized innovations. The Innovation Institute is an eight-week summer immersion program where scholars across the country live and study social entrepreneurship in rural Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda or South Africa. Through a field-tested curriculum and experience with local community members, scholars explore new thinking on poverty and international development, create business solutions to challenges in emerging economies and launch ideas connecting education to the real world. The program is one-of-a-kind, and brings together multi-disciplinary backgrounds to propel students to be leaders in collaboration and sustainable impact.

The work to build an ecosystem of universities actively engaging in the world of social entrepreneurship is still in its infancy, but it is not insignificant. Indeed, it is raging forward. Ashoka U seeks to establish a community that changes the world. It already has. And the work has only just begun.

Want to submit an idea for impact and continue the momentum? Visit Ashoka U's Good Maker challenge and get involved today!